Highlighting socialist education, new guidelines to improve the quality of compulsory education have been widely hailed as a milestone in China’s education reform. The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and State Council published the guidelines earlier this month, aiming to develop an education system that will foster citizens with an all-round moral, intellectual, physical, and hard-working spirit.
China implemented a law for a free nine-year compulsory education – six years primary, three years secondary – on July 1, 1986.
The law established the requirements for attaining a universal education and guarantees school-age children the right to receive at least nine years. It is a crime for parents to deprive their children of this right, according to the law.
The New Guidelines
The new guidelines require moral education and all-round development of students to be priorities – and efforts should be made to foster students’ quality with firm faith, patriotism, integrity, broad knowledge and striving spirit.
Compulsory education should emphasise the cultivation of students’ core socialist values, traditional Chinese culture and mental health. Schools are now required to strengthen education in patriotism, collectivism and socialism, plus guide children and teenagers to listen to the CPC and follow the Party.
Education experts noted it is the first time such a document raises the concept of political enlightenment education, which indicates that compulsory education shoulders the responsibility of enhancing students’ national and ethnic identity (in other words, socialism with Chinese characteristics).
“It can help the students form sound socialist core values from an early age. When they grow up, they will become a supporter of the motherland and the new generation who takes on the responsibility of national rejuvenation,” according to Yu Fayou, director of the Beijing-based National Institute of Education Sciences.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised to fulfil the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation and realise the goals set for the centenaries of the CPC in 2021 and the People’s Republic of China in 2049.
Speaking at a national education conference on September 10, 2018 which marked China’s 34th Teachers’ Day, Xi hailed education as the fundamental task of the country and the Party, saying the goal of the educational cause is to cultivate socialist builders and successors with all-around moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding with a hardworking spirit.
“The main force to realise this goal is either receiving or about to receive compulsory education, so the reform will contribute greatly in fostering the successors of the construction of socialism”, said Chu Zhaohui, another research fellow at the institute.
Education insiders also pointed out that the guidelines have not only made the future direction for education reform clearer, but more importantly address the long-term hard slogs in compulsory education.
For example, there are requirements for strengthening physical education, enhancing aesthetic training with more art curriculum and activities, and encouraging students to participate in more physical exercise to boost their hard-working spirit.
“Comprehensive development” is not a new phrase. Although first raised years ago, parents and schools tend to care more about test scores and less about PE classes amid the pressures of schoolwork. Many observers have noted that the pledge “Labour is the most glorious thing” has turned out more of a slogan than a practical call to action.
Chu noted that schools are now expected “to arrange more courses featuring arts, sports and other subjects beneficial for students’ overall qualities in future and invest heavily in cultivating teachers in those fields.”
The guideline proposes more specific measures requiring joint efforts from family, school and society to promote students’ labour spirit, such as organising students to participate in community service.
It also stipulates that except for those who are necessarily exempted from physical exercise, students cannot obtain graduation certificates unless they attain certain standards of physical health and fitness. Physical health performance will be included in high school enrolment standards and each student must master one or two sports skills.
Educators have noted that although the central government has many times vowed to reduce the burden of school work on students in compulsory education, the results have been mixed at best. According to the new guidelines, schools cannot arbitrarily increase or decrease class time, change difficulty or adjust study progress. They are also banned from publicising scores and ranks, organising excessive examinations and requesting parents to check schoolwork.
The guideline forbids schools from using examinations, competitions or training certificates as the basis for enrolment, requesting them to include comprehensive quality into the evaluation system, a move which analysts believe will help root out Chinese society’s obsessions with test scores.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, noted that although many measures in the guidelines have been mentioned in many other documents issued by education bureaus, “the guidelines have systematically concluded previous policies and upgraded education polices to a national level, which will help carry out the policy more effectively.”